How has written text shaped our world through the centuries? This is the theme explored by a new Europeana ‘Rise of Literacy’ project, in which the National Library of Wales will be a partner. With the support of funding from the European Commission, ‘Rise of Literacy’ will tell the story of the rise of literacy through a European-wide lens.
Last week, I was at Europeana Foundation’s main office at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the national library of the Netherlands in the Hague, to begin the new project. The National Library of Wales is one of 13 partners from across Europe that will be working together to digitize, share and curate digital content relating to the theme on the Europeana Collections platform.
Europeana is Europe’s digital cultural heritage platform. Next year it celebrates its tenth anniversary. Since launching in 2008, the number of objects that can be accessed on the platform has increased more than tenfold from 4.5 million to more than 50 million. NLW has worked on other projects with Europeana, giving access through the platform to some of our most well-known digital collections, most notably the Geoff Charles and John Thomas photographic collections and the Welsh landscape collection. We have also contributed to the EuropeanaTravel, EuropeanaCloud and Europeana280 projects.
The event in the Hague brought together the project partners, which include cultural institutions from Scotland, Latvia, Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Serbia, as well as the Europeana team. Even at this early stage, we could see the many different topics that could be explored and the fascinating stories that could emerge through the project.
The aim of this project will be to create, develop and promote editorial content relating to the theme of the Rise of Literacy in Europe.
As a project partner, NLW will share hundreds of relevant objects, ranging from medieval manuscripts to early printed works and nineteenth-century newspapers, so that they can be discovered and displayed alongside similar materials from other parts of Europe.
These digital objects will be used to interpret the theme, leading to the creation of collections, exhibitions, galleries and blog posts, where they will be seen in the broader context of European culture and presented to a wider user audience.
The next stage will involve planning, selection and curation of digital collections, which will begin to be made available to the public from spring 2018.
For more information on the Rise of Literacy project and the kick-off meeting in the Hague, read this blog post by Nicole McNeilly, Collections Editor at the Europeana Foundation.
At a special ceremony on Friday, 22 September, The National Library of Wales launched its Welsh Music Archive Programme in the presence of the folk music expert and Library benefactor, Phyllis Kinney.
Phyllis Kinney and her daughter Eluned were present at the Friday launch where Maredudd ap Huw and I gave a presentation to the Board on the musical collections here and the plans for the future. Members of Côr y Gen (National Library of Wales staff choir) also contributed to the launch by singing a selection of folk songs.
The Library takes pride in the fact that the Merêd and Phyllis archive, which includes their detailed research into traditional music, has come to the Library and is grateful to the family for their generosity in transferring the collection to the Library’s care. The Library intends to provide access to this new resource to everyone who wants to find out more about folk music, and to create online access in digital format.
The Merêd and Phyllis archive reflects their extensive knowledge of traditional singing and leads to further study of the Library’s collections such as the collections of J Lloyd Williams (one of the founders of the Welsh Folk Song Society) and Maria Jane Williams, a prominent collector of Welsh Folk Songs.
During her recent visit to the Library, Cerys Matthews recorded a message enthusiastically supporting the work of the Welsh Musical Archive:
The National Library of Wales not only preserves the earliest written music from Wales, but also collects the latest compositions and performances by our contemporary musicians. It is a growing resource; material is added regularly to our musical collections. The collection includes works by internationally renowned classical Welsh composers such as Grace Williams, Daniel Jones, Alun Hoddinott and William Mathias.
And now there are brand new pages on the website for further information on
This week saw the 20th anniversary of the Welsh referendum that paved way for the creation of the National Assembly for Wales. I decided to see what I could discover about this historic occasion within the Library’s various online subscriptions. (*To access these resources from outside the Library building you will have to use your reader’s ticket. If you haven’t got a reader’s ticket you can register very easily here).
Whilst support for devolution was low during the first referendum in 1979, the ensuing political and economic landscape over the next decade and a half led to increased calls for a second referendum. As a result, the Labour party included proposals for a second referendum in their 1992 manifesto, and after their landslide victory in the 1997 general election, these were set in motion.
The Referenda (Scotland and Wales) Act asked voters if they were in favour of devolution for Scotland and Wales. Many commentators analysed what devolution would mean for the future of the United Kingdom, as can be seen in this article from ‘The World Today’:
The referendum was held on the 18th of September 1997, and unlike the referendum in 1979, the result was extremely close. In fact, the votes were so close, the result hung on the announcement from Carmarthenshire. As the result came in, there were wild celebrations amongst the Yes campaigners as devolution was secured by a margin of 6,721 votes.
The Guardian reports for the days after both Welsh referenda can be seen here and here:
As a result of this narrow victory, the Government of Wales Act 1998 was passed by the Labour government to create a National Assembly for Wales:
There was a concern that the low voter turnout meant that voters were apathetic towards the notion of a national assembly, however this study by Roger Scully, Richard Wyn Jones and Dafydd Trystan concludes that this was not the case:
Following such a momentous change to the country’s political landscape, and following further referendums in 2006 and 2011, it’s only natural that commentators and scholars have sought to discuss and evaluate the impact of devolution on various aspects of life in Wales:
Recently the Library has embarked on an exciting new project to develop and establish a National Broadcast Archive for Wales. We are working with the BBC to receive all their original recordings together with digitized copies, which will be an invaluable addition to accompany the ITV collection, which are already housed in the Library.
This is an ambitious project and the Library is keen to create a valuable resource that will be available to as wide an audience as possible. We intend to provide the public access to the collection at the Library and also in other locations in the form of Digital Heritage Hubs in Wrexham, Carmarthen and Cardiff. We are also keen to develop strong relationships with our users and as the project develops, a program of activities and events will be planned.
By now, the planning work for phase 2 has begun in earnest and the last two months have been a busy and interesting period of planning and research. During this time, we have had the opportunity to meet people and make connections at the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod and we have also visited various incredible organizations and have been inspired by their facilities!
At Manchester Library we had the opportunity to watch films in their Mediatheque and also browse their various digital presentations.
Our visit to the National Library of Scotland’s discovery center at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow was extremely interesting and we were introduced to the Moving Image Archive as well as having the opportunity to explore their centre and the material on display. We left Glasgow with many interesting ideas for our hubs!
Because we are eager for this project to be as ambitious as possible we travelled to Amsterdam to visit Beeld ên Geluid, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and the EYE Film Museum. Again we were inspired by seeing how large organizations present their collections and we’ve returned with a number of new ideas.
We are also eager, of course, to develop a project that meets your needs! So, as well as looking at what other organizations do, we also want to know what you want us to do. To do this we are planning a period of public consultation that will take place from October to February. To learn more about our project or to voice your opinions there will be an opportunity to answer a questionnaire or attend events that will be arranged. We would love to get as many contributors and work with as many users as possible, so if you are eager to receive more details, you are welcome to contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org or you can keep up with developments or events by following our Twitter page: @NatBA_NLW.
Nia Wyn Dafydd (Access Development Officer National Library of Wales Broadcast Archive Project)
My first three map blogs have been concerned with the landscapes associated with Strata Florida Abbey and this final blog is no different, even though we have now moved a considerable distance from the medieval Cistercian monastery. The top left-hand corner of this map shows the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve at Gilfach, which lies about 2 miles (3.2km) north of Rhayader. To get from Strata Florida to Gilfach today would take an hour – it is 60 miles (96km) by road. Medieval monks took a more direct route, along a medieval track that links Strata Florida to another great religious centre, the Cistercian abbey at Cwm-Hir, near Llandrindod Wells.
Look carefully at this map and you will see the route labelled as ‘Ancient road’ in the left-hand margin of the map, just above the prominent blue of the Afon (River) Marteg. The ‘ancient road’, is known locally as the Monks’ Trod; though now overgrown with turf, the carefully constructed medieval track survives intact for much of its route across the Cambrian Mountains. It follows the contours round hills as much as possible to create a level path along which messengers on horseback could travel the 23 miles (36km) between the two abbeys in less than hour if galloping at a horses’ top speed of 40–48 kmh.
The map shows that 19th-century railway engineers chose the same route for the Mid-Wales Railway, which operated for just over 100 years between 1864 and 1967. The railway played a critical role in keeping coal supplies moving during both World Wars but today it is better known for the bats that have found a home in the abandoned tunnel that underlies the medieval track. Just north-east of the tunnel, where the railway once crossed the Marteg on a viaduct, there is now a hide where you can spot the blue flash of kingfishers, or the silver glint of salmon leaping in late summer; and if you are prepared to stay up all night you might also spot an otter hunting. The track from the river runs uphill to Gilfach itself, a medieval longhouse and farmstead, which the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust has restored to serve as a visitor centre.
The Monks’ Trod is slowly being rediscovered by walkers and pilgrims exploring mid-Wales: for details of the route and its history, you can read an article by Professor Andrew Fleming that was published in British Archaeology magazine (Vol 109, Nov–Dec 2009) or his longer paper tracing the route in ‘The Making of a Medieval Road: The Monks’ Trod Routeway’, in Landscapes, Volume 10 (1), pages 77—100.
An informal group of Welsh and Shropshire bird-watchers dipped into their wallets recently to help the National Library acquire at auction three game books from Glyn Cywarch, the family home of the Harlechs. They complement the Library’s existing collection of game books including two for the years 1822 to 1835 from the Harlech’s former home, Brogyntyn Hall, near Oswestry,
The newly acquired books (Brogyntyn Estate and Family Records EAC7/3-5) cover the years 1882 to 1933. They record game shot on estates in Wales, England, Ireland and Scotland (where Salmon feature too). The ‘guns’ are named in full, with the exception of the inscriber who appears as ‘GOG’ in the earlier entries and later simply as ‘H’: this is the Honourable George Ormsby-Gore, who became the third Baron Harlech in 1904.
The Shropshire birders were keen to learn more of the shoots at Brogyntyn. They were not disappointed, finding, for example, that Red Grouse had once occurred at a cluster of sites on the estate, none of which appears in the ornithological literature. Welsh birders will be keen to mine the records for shoots at Ruabon, where, on 18 August 1908, for example, a staggering 693 grouse were shot by Lord Harlech and seven others.
But these are a rich source for social historians too, keen to learn more of the lives of Lord Harlech and his contemporaries. In 1908/09, for example, he shot on average twice a week from August through to January at Brogyntyn, Glyn Cywarch, Ruabon and Powis, and at other estates in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, three in the Highlands and Derrycarne, a Harlech property in Ireland. Shooting was a social pastime and names in the game books provide a roll-call of the peerage: Lords Hamilton, Dalhousie, Onslow, Mar, Maidstone, Lilford, Denbigh, Fortescue, Ebrington, Dartmouth, Kenyon, Winchilsea, Howe, Powis, the Duke of Portland, the Earl of Enniskillen and Lady Wickham. It will be for the social historians to conjure up the army of gamekeepers, butlers, cooks, maids and other retainers employed to support them.
Improving online access to Welsh language health information
The newly appointed National Wikimedian at the National Library of Wales will begin in his new role by tackling an important issue facing Welsh speakers – access to free, quality information on important health and wellbeing issues in Welsh.
Wicipedia is the most viewed Welsh language website in the world with over 90,000 articles. A recent audit of the content revealed that Welsh Wikipedia has very few articles about health and yet the few articles which do exist are, on average, being viewed more times than articles on any other subject. This suggests that Welsh speakers want to consume information about their health in Welsh, through Wicipedia.
Welsh Wicipedia has 1,500 Welsh language articles on health compared to 84,000 in English
2.09% of Welsh Wikipedia articles about Health – 6.67% in English
Views of Welsh articles about health make up 12% of total page views, more than any other subject.
It is thought that Wikipedia has become the most consulted health resource in the world (based on 4.8 billion pageviews in 2013) and therefore it is vital that it contains reliable, comprehensive information on all aspects of health, from medications, and surgical procedures to fitness, wellbeing and historical information.
It is estimated that poor health costs Wales billions each year, and free easy access to health information through the medium of Welsh (on Wicipedia) would help provide the public with the information they need in a format they are familiar with.
The project, funded by the Welsh Government, will see the National Library of Wales hold a series of public events across Wales, to teach and encourage Health professionals, Medical students and the general public to help improve health content on Wikipedia.
The National Wikimedian will also seek partnerships with charities and institutions who already produce Welsh language health content with the aim of working together to provide access to this content through Wicipedia, with links back to their own online services.
It is hoped that the 9 month project will result in the creation of 3000 new Welsh language health related articles on Wicipedia.
This project aligns with the mission of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, namely, to help develop A healthier Wales and A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language. The National Library of Wales is one of the Government’s key partners in delivering on the act.
The project will also help the Library to engage with new communities and develop new partnerships in the education and health sectors in order to promote and develop the use of Welsh as a digital language.
This Ordnance Survey map, published in 1891, continues the theme of my first two blogs, revealing aspects of the monastic landscape around the Cistercian Abbey of Strata Florida. It shows the Teifi Pools, a group of lakes situated approximately 8km (5 miles) east-north-east of the ancient abbey, 455m (about 1,500 ft) up the western slopes of the Cambrian Mountains. The footpath from the abbey to the lakes follows the banks of the River Teifi for much of the route up to Llyn Teifi , the biggest of the lakes and the source of the river. The Teifi flows from here to its estuary at Cardigan 73 miles (117km) away, forming the boundary between Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire for most of its length, and the boundary between Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire for the final 3 miles (5 km).
Here it is a delightful infant river with many tributaries, as the map shows, among the bogs and hills of the Cambrians. The path and the river enter this map at the bottom left-hand corner, and our Cistercian monks no doubt enjoyed their regular walks up to the Teifi pools. In the Catholic Church calendar, there were numerous days of fasting and abstinence when eating meat was forbidden, including every Friday and the six weeks of Lent. Every monastery had its artificial fishponds full of muddy tasting carp; Strata Florida’s monks could look forward to fresh-tasting perch, trout and eel from this big series of natural fishponds, and the lakes remain a popular haunt of anglers fishing for brown trout.
Today the path diverts to Fron Goch, the site of one of the largest lead and zinc mines in central Wales. Largescale mining began here in 1834, and in 1900 some 80 miners were brought to work here from the Bergamo region of Northern Italy. Sadly, the Italian and Welsh miners did not get on, and there were frequent disagreements between them about working hours and rates of pay before the mines were finally closed in 1910.
The Teifi Pools themselves are relics of the ice sheet that lay across these mountains during the last Ice Age, eroding the Cambrian Mountains and giving them their characteristic flat shoulder-like appearance, quite unlike the peaks and valleys of Snowdonia. Further evidence of glaciation in the area are the many boulders called erratics – blocks of rock that were dislodged by the ice and carried here before being dumped when the ice melted, some 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.
One of these erratics earned the name of Carreg Samson because Samson, the Biblical giant and strong man, is supposed to have been walking nearby when he felt a stone in his shoe, which he removed and dropped here. A group of eight erratics alongside one of the smaller lakes, Llyn y Gorlan, forms a rough circle: folklore has interpreted this as a primitive Gorsedd circle, popularly believed to have been the site of an early Druidic Eisteddfod back in the mists of time.
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.